Films are quietly disappearing from Disney Plus

With the release of Disney Plus, Disney has effectively done away with its fabled Vault. For years, the Vault was where Disney put films between waves of releases, so some classic titles would be unavailable for long periods. It was a smart way to drive interest in Disney’s release schedule for DVDs and Blu-Rays: whenever a beloved film emerged from the Vault, consumers, collectors, and resellers would rush to buy it, assuming their opportunities to own it would be limited. But with its new streaming service, Disney promised that all its classics would be permanently available to subscribers. That doesn’t apply to every movie on the service, however. Some films clearly aren’t going to live on Disney Plus forever.

In fact, as 2020 began, some Disney Plus users noticed that a few films had gone missing from the streaming library. Dr. Dolittle, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Home Alone and Home Alone 2, and The Sandlot are no longer streamable on Disney Plus. All these titles disappeared without warning, and so far, Disney hasn’t said anything about it. Polygon has reached out to Disney for comment on the departures.

Many fans are surprised by films dropping off the service, particularly since Disney hasn’t issued press releases about the changes. Where companies like HBO and Netflix put out monthly bulletins of everything coming to and leaving their streaming services each month, so viewers can plan their last-minute binges, Disney has only emphasized new arrivals, not departures. But the company has never actually promised that the various offerings on Disney Plus would remain there indefinitely.

Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer & International division of The Walt Disney Company Kevin Mayer took part today in the Disney+ Showcase at Disney’s D23 EXPO

Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

In a statement to in November 2019, a Disney Plus spokesperson said, “there will not be a ‘rotating slate’ of licensed movies each month […] With Disney Plus, beloved classics from the Disney vault will now stream in a permanent home, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King — the entire 13-film Signature Collection — all available on day one.”

The Signature Collection, for those unfamiliar, replaced the company’s Platinum Edition and Diamond Edition home media releases of Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast, Bambi, Peter Pan, and Sleeping Beauty. This statement certainly makes it clear that Disney’s classics won’t be leaving Disney Plus, but it doesn’t say anything about the service’s hundreds of other movies.

And there are films that are already set to leave Disney Plus. According to a report from Bloomberg, a few of the service’s biggest titles, like Black Panther, are currently set to lapse back to Netflix in 2026, where they were before Disney Plus launched. On top of that, a few enterprising Disney Plus users noticed that other films had hidden expiration dates, which could indicate the end of certain contracts and licensing deals, even though Disney owns all of the titles on Disney Plus.

Black Panther

Black Panther, set to leave Disney Plus in 2026
Image: Marvel

Perhaps the most direct statement on the idea of titles leaving came from Disney CEO Bob Iger himself. In March of 2019, Iger said that soon after launch, Disney Plus would “house the entire Disney motion picture library.” But he clarified that he was talking about “the movies that you speak of that traditionally have been kept in the ‘vault’ and brought out basically every few years.”

These comments leave a slight loophole to explain some of the missing movies. In a later presentation in April, Disney also specified that the catalog rollout would take time. During the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, Cnet reported Iger as saying that Disney Plus subscribers would be able to download their favorite movies, when talking about movies that could potentially leave the platform due to the Netflix deal.

According to the Cnet report, Iger said, “by and large, almost all of it is there … And if you’re a subscriber, you can download it and put it on a device, and it will stay on the device as long as you continue to subscribe.” In a later statement to The Verge, a Disney Plus representative clarified that downloaded content would only stay on viewers’ devices as long as that content was available on Disney Plus, which means that the company was always planning for some titles to leave the service.

This isn’t the first time movies have quietly been removed from Disney Plus. In 2019, movies like The Shaggy Dog and Garfield 2: A Tail of Two Kitties were also removed. But while these few titles have left the service, and possibly more that have gone unnoticed, Disney has also slowly been adding to the Disney Plus library. For now, it seems that the complications of licensing deals and streaming rights could mean that the selection of movies and shows on Disney Plus, both in the US and in other countries, could remain in flux for the next several years.

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